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The Movie Industry Firearms Safety Manual

Originally Written By Jefferson Wagner ©1994
Illustration Peter Carpenter - Layout Greg Carpenter
Updated by the crew of Movie Gun Services, LLC © 2006

Firearms Safety Manual


This guideline is intended to be utilized by property department persons,
actor / stunt players and others using blank-fire adapted weapons. The following can and should also be utilized where blank-fire non-guns will be used.

Safety on the set is everyone's responsibility.
If you see an unsafe condition, say something!

This manual has been distributed to:

  • B.A.T. F. - Los Angeles office
  • California State Fire Marshal's Office - Sacramento, CA
  • D.O.J. - Sacramento, CA Automated Fire Arms Division
  • I.A. Local 44 - Los Angeles, CA
  • IA Local 891 - Vancouver, B.C. CANADA
  • Los Angeles City Fire Dept. - Film Unit
  • Los Angeles County Fire Dept. - Public Relations
  • Screen Actors Guild 
Copies of the current version as presented has been distributed to:
  • BATFE - NYC Office
  • NYS Office of the State Fire Marshal - Albany, NY
  • NYS Division of Police - Albany, NY
  • NYPD-TV/Movie Gun Unit - Flushing, NY
  • Nassau/Suffolk Police Dept - Special Services
  • Nassau/Suffolk Fire Marshal's Offices
This material is in no way an endorsement by any of the above entities.  The following is only recommendations.
Every production you work on will be different in terms of the personnel, cast & crew, location, weather, etc. The caliber of the firearms will differ as well as the blank ammunition operating them. Keeping these factors in mind, let's always practice practical safety. Practical safety, together with common sense, must be the true director on the set. Your coworkers will be grateful when you show command presence while making safety decisions.  




Many an Actor has been killed by a blanked firearm.

In the past, some operators and prop persons have instructed actors to raise the firearm above their heads after they hear, "Cut". There are several good reasons that this practice should change.There could be a malfunction of the firearm and a "hang-fire" or late discharge, or the actor/stunt player might accidentally pull the trigger and discharge another blank while in the raised up position.

The probability of injury to the actor/stunt player and crew is greater, because:

  1. The gas release is close to your eyes and ears because it is at head level.
  2. The gas release may be close to another cast or crew member's head and face.
  3. Spent cases ejected from semi-auto pistols, assault weapons and machine guns can strike actors/stunt players about the head and face, or go down a shirt or blouse causing severe burns.
  4. While raising and lowering the firearm, it inadvertently gets aimed at the Gun Wrangler, who may be approaching.
  5. Often, when an actor/stunt player aims away from the Gun Wrangler for safety, he may now be directing it toward another person to his or her side.
  6. The "lowered" position is a more relaxed position for the actor/stunt player. Fewer muscle groups are used than in the raised position. If there is a discharge, it will now be directed at the ground and if the spent case is ejected there is less chance it will strike someone.
Basic rules while operating all blanked firearms or blank-fire non-guns on the set:
  • Consider discharge zones. Do NOT point near crew members or cast. Blanked guns can kill. Blank-fire Non-Guns can injure.
  • Consider a firearm ALWAYS loaded until YOU unload it after retrieving it from the actor/stunt player.
  • Do NOT depend on firearm safety mechanisms. Revolvers and some semi-auto pistols don't have them; Glock pistols safety mechanisms are actually in the trigger. Wather PPK's do not have a slide lock. AK47's do not have a bolt-hold-open catch.
  • Check that internally threaded or externally mounted barrel restrictors are fitted properly and that the flash suppressor itself is firmly secured and not cracked. Check them for tightness often. If one dislodges, it could strike someone and kill them.
  • Make sure everyone in the vicinity is wearing ear protection. People on camera can wear "foamies" or wax plugs. ALWAYS offer ear protection regardless of shooting on a Sound Stage or outdoors.
  • Carry guns to action positions UNLOADED. Only load when everything is to YOUR satisfaction. Everyone's safety is your responsibility.
  • Look the actor in the eye and notify him or her that the weapon is "HOT" and ready to fire when the trigger is pulled. Tell them to leave their trigger finger in the "ready position" until when the discharge is needed. In a loud voice, notify crew that weapon is "HOT."
  • Make eye contact with everyone involved with the shot. Instruct the actor / stunt player that in the event of a malfunction or jam, to raise his/her hand and then lower the weapon away from the face and point it towards the ground.
  • Spend every moment of downtime between "takes" to inspect, clean and oil every gun. Doing so will prevent surprises. If it is broken or fails in any way, remove it from the set immediately.

Quite often production calls for the cast and crew, stunt players or extras to carry replica firearms. On almost every set I have worked, these props have been treated with complete disregard. This shows a very unprofessional attitude. These are not cheap and can be damaged beyond repair if mishandled or dropped. The working replica gun's value has increased in the past several years due to the new state and federal importation laws. (Most replica guns are imported.) Replica firearms should be treated with the same respect as operating forearms. Actors/stunt players should NOT "dry" fire or operate charging mechanisms until told to do so by a production authority. 


Rubber weapons, which cost between $150 and $300 apiece were designed to be carried by stunt persons during falls and fight scenes. Most rubber guns look like the real thing. Treat them with the same respect you would a real firearm. Sure, it's fun to "fast draw" these props or point them at your buddy, but think of how others around you view this activity. The image you portray on the set is the image others rely on when considering you for possible future work.





  1. The trigger is depressed (pulled) and the hammer is released to strike the firing pin
  2. The pin moves with enough energy forward through the breach face and into the cylinder of a revolver, breach of a pistol, shotgun, or the receiver of machine gun or assault weapon.
  3. The pin strikes the rear of the blank cartridge on it's primer.
  4. The primer ignites the powder inside the cartridge and burning of the powder begins.
  5. As the gas generated by the burning powder inside the cartridge expands, it pushes forward and forces out wadding in revolver and shotgun blanks and forces open the crimp of semi-auto pistols and assault weapon blanks.
  6. This gas continues burning and expanding as it enters the barrel. In some semi-automatic and full automatic weapons,
    some gas is diverted to recycle the bolt and discharge the expended blank. In other semiautomatic and automatic weapons, a restrictor is machined into the barrel to restrict gases escape out of the barrel and back to operate the bolt and extraction process. In revolvers, pump action shotguns, breach or receiver fed shotguns and bolt action rifles, all the gas leaves the end of the barrel with paper or cardboard wadding, burnt and unburt gun powder particles, as well as brass particles expelling out of the muzzle.
  7. Blanks are notoriously dirty, and when fired they leave a tremendous amount of residue inside the barrel of the gun. As this residue builds up, eventually the gun will fail to function and require a thorough cleaning.

How Far Away IS Safe?
As described on above, the release of burning gas, blank wadding materials and brass particles from the crimp are elements of possible injury. There are so many variations of firearms and combinations of blanks used that we would need volumes to describe all the possibilities. Common sense must be used. Some of the blank ammunition boxes have disclaimers that state, "unsafe within 20 feet." This is the manufacturer's "safe" distance. Often the action being filmed calls for shots to be fired within 5 to 10 feet of another actor/stunt player. It is my suggestion to NEVER exceed the manufacturers recommendations for standoff printed on the box containing the blanks. Most military surplus blanks are not suitable for film or state wok because of their intended purpose. Never use no-name or white box blanks. Only use those produced by a reputable manufacturer. If there are no safety distances printed on the box, or you are unsure, check the blanks yourself. It is even a good idea to test one blank from every box.
A safe-check procedure or test-fire display should demonstrate a safe distance for a discharge. Set up a "C" stand with an arm out and hang a piece of white tissue paper from it. Stand back at the distance the director wants and discharge the firearm. Upon firing, if the tissue paper is shattered apart, step back a few feet.  When the tissue no longer disintegrates from the shot, check for powder burns. If need be back up a few more steps. Finally, of course, you will "cheat" the point of aim by actually firing the firearm away from the other actor/stunt player.
NEVER, under any circumstance aim or shoot toward the head and face of another person. The weapon should ALWAYS be "cheated" or deflected away from the actor. If at all possible, arrange for the actor being shot to wear sunglasses. If it is a bit-part, there shouldn't be a problem making the recommendation.

        "Common sense" guidelines that should be understood and practiced by the prop master/Gun Wrangler

He or she should:

  • Instruct actors/stunt players in the proper use and function of the firearm they will be operating. Some actors have never before used a firearm. It is up to the Gun Wrangler to get everyone up to speed. If the Gun Wrangler cannot properly train an actor or stunt player to operate a firearm, he/she must inform the director or assistant director that a problem exists and make the necessary adjustments.
  • Have current and valid licenses or permits and be qualified to work with the types of firearms in possession and operation, whether the firearms are privately owned or company rented.
  • As the responsible party for distributing the firearms on the set, be sure that no one else is distributing any firearms. If it is necessary for another person to assist in the distribution of firearms, the Gun Wrangler assumes the responsibility of making sure the assistant is qualified under all local, state and federal laws. Remember, the firearms are under your direct control at all times, even when an actor holds them.
  • Inspect the firearm's cylinder, breach, receiver and barrel for any contamination before loading any blanks. A loose restrictor can dislodge and kill someone.
  • Only load the firearms prior to actual use for filming and just before handing them off to an actor.
  • Make people aware that firearms are being loaded when installing the blank cartridges, and insist that actors/stunt players involved with the firing of the said firearm to watch the loading process. Explain the process and the dangers involved again.
 When the "big scene" calls for a plethora of operation firearms,
it is suggested that you pace yourself in the following ways:

1. Have a walk-through and safety meeting before filming. Involve all crew members and actors who will be on set.

2. Determine which firearms are most reliable, and have those placed with actors closest to the camera.

3. Discuss with actors/stunt players the safety procedures with regard to firearms. There is no harm in checking everyone a second time, one-on-one.

4. Instruct the director or assistant director about safe zones of fire; i.e. brass, gas and wading.

5. Ask the director or assistant director as to their wishes in case of firearm malfunction during filming:
a. Have the actor/stunt player continue with the scene, with his/her finger in "ready" position (out of the trigger guard and along side the gun, or 

b. Have the actor stop and announce, "Dud" or "Stop."
6. Make sure everyone involved understands the same malfunction signal. Chances are there may be a pyrotechnic special effect going on in the scene and you will only have one chance to "get it." Remember to practice common sense.

7. When the Gun Wrangler/ prop master hears, "Cut!" after the "big scene" or when there is a malfunction of a firearm,
he/she should retrieve the malfunctioning firearm first, then the others in the predetermined order.
8. Do NOT permit any actor/stunt player to try to repair a malfunctioning firearm. Do not allow them to hang onto the firearms between "takes." Always lock them up in your "Gun Box" anytime you are not in attendance to them or cannot maintain direct oversight.9. Never allow anyone but yourself to acquire and dispense blanks. Always keep your supply of blanks locked up in a separate "Ammo Box." Diagrams of various types of firearms


Action - Not to be confused with what the Director says. This is the general term for the working components of a gun.

Ammo  - An abbreviated term for ammunition, which is an object that is propelled out of a gun. A.k.a. round or bullet.

Ammo Box - A lockable metal or heavy wooden box in which blank cartridges are stored while ON-SET.

Assault Weapon - A type of semi-automatic firearm that has the look and operation of a military firearm.

Barrel Restrictions - Steel insert secured inside of a barrel or an adapter attached to the outside of a barrel, at the muzzle to restrict the burning gases to create back-pressure to operate the bolt/slide and eject empty brass. Sometimes preferred to as the "PILL."

B. F. A. - Used by the industry to describe "live" weapons used in the entertainment industry - "Blank Fire Adapted."

Blank - Term for a round or cartridge that is assembled with powder but without a projectile.

Bolt - That part of a long gun which takes a round forward into the receiver, into the chamber for discharge and then brings the spent round's brass back for ejection.

Brass - The metal most often used as the case or cartridge of a blank or bullet.

Centerfire - Cartridge or blank cartridge that discharges when struck in the rear and center.

Bullet - A misused catchall term for cartridge (case & projectile) or just the projectile.

Charge - Sometimes refers to a blank cartridge. Also reference to the act of injecting a round into the receiver, i.e. "charging the firearm."   

DAG - A brand of blank ammunition that is manufactured in Germany that uses a plastic lip.

Discharge - To shoot, or to fire, to expel, to discharge a round or blank from a gun.

Dummy Round - A cartridge that looks real to camera but is "inert" (i.e. no powders or primers). Because these look real to the untrained eye, never leave them laying around.

Firearm- Regulation term for a "live" gun which includes revolvers, pistols, shotguns, and rifles.

Flash Suppressor - A fixture attached to the end of a barrel that limits by dispersion, the amount of flash that is visible coming straight out of the muzzle when the gun is fired.(Not a sound suppressor)

Foamies - A general term for foam inserts placed into the ears to reduce the gunshot decibel level and protect one's hearing. A.k.a."ear plugs"

Full Auto - A gun that fires continuously with one pull of the trigger and continues firing until the magazine is empty, or until the trigger is released.

Gun - The general term used to refer to all types of firearm shaped props.

Gun Box - A lockable metal or heavy wooden box with wheels where guns are stored between "takes.

"Gun Wrangler - A licensed contractor who is the actual possessor of blanked "live" firearms and has complete control over them at all times. He or she has the last word as to whether a SET-UP is safe or not.

Magazine - The magazine is a device which holds extra cartridges in a firearm. There are internal magazines and external detachable magazines as well as tubular magazines.

Pistol - A gun usually held in one hand that fires automatically

Prop Master - The over-all responsible person representing the production company with regard to all properties, both owned and rented.

Projectile - The cartridge component that travels out of the barrel.

Revolver - A gun which contains a multi-chambered cylinder that rotates inside the frame to present a cartridge for the firing pin to strike, when in-line with the barrel.

Round - Another misused word the refers to a cartridge or "bullet."

Safety- On a gun, a mechanism or device that is supposed to render the gun inoperable. DON'T DEPEND ON THEM.

Setaquette - A slang word that Mr. Wagner use's to describe a person's behavior on a movie set. (Etiquette)

Semi Auto - Pistols and assault weapons that discharge each time the trigger is pulled. One pull, one shot, until the magazine is empty.

Shotgun - A long gun that releases lead or steel pellets in a group instead of a bullet.

Slide - The reciprocating part of a semiautomatic pistol that strips the round from the magazine, feeds the round into the chamber, and with it's extractor, expels the fired case.

Weapon - General term that includes all guns and anything that can be used to assault another person, as a group

Background of the original author
Jefferson Wagner, 1994
Former L.A. Co. Sheriff Deputy reserve level I
Current Cal. D.O.J. Basic firearms course provider
Current B.A.T.F. Class III Lic.
Current Cal. D.O.J. Machine gun lic.
Current Cal. D.O.J. Assault weapon lic.
Current Cal. D.O.J. Short barrel shotgun, short barrel rifle lic.
Current Cal. State fire marshal pyrotechnic operators 3 card
Credits in over 100 feature films, foreign and domestic for stunts and weapons handling
Member S.A.G. 13 years
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